June 26, 2015
Like many of my peers, I was a tv/movie brat who spent numerous hours late at night scanning for obscure things to watch on a small, portable black & white television.
(Yes, I lived during a time when tv sets were available in black and white. And there were only three networks - four including PBS. Don't be so ageist!)
One night, eight years old, I came across something called Murdersville late on a Friday night. That was my introduction to a show called The Avengers (which I knew automatically had no connection to the Marvel comic)....and to a man who was a kind of masculine role model.
Most boys idolized sports stars, action heroes, and GI Joe. My role models growing up were Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, Jon Pertwee, and Patrick Macnee...and Macnee was the most influential.
See, most of the men in my family....OK, my father loved four things: Sherlock Holmes, war movies (especially World War II), westerns, and mafia dramas. Most of the other men in my family....well, let's just say that I was deemed as "strange" because I could sew. And didn't date up a storm in high school (low self-esteem will do that to a man, but that's a blog post for another day).
But Macnee as Steed was not only attainable - he was ideal. Witty, urbane, well-read, intelligent - I could be all of those things. His dress sense was something I could also reflect (my father had plenty of nice suits - after all, he was an attorney), and there was a confidence about him that never seemed overdone.
But the thing that really impressed me was how he related to Emma Peel. It was friendly, flirtatious, and yet with a strong sense of equality. There wasn't the kind of will-they-won't-they that permeated many shows that came after (I'm looking at you, Moonlighting), nor was it the application of easy "action babe/sidekick" tropes prevalent in modern shows (I'm looking at you, collective works of Joss Whedon). You knew that Steed liked Mrs. Peel - even if only professionally - and there was always an undercurrent of class about the man.
(Watching the very early episodes of The Avengers, Steed started as a harder-edged character and grew into an Edwardian gentleman. Ironically, only two months ago I wrote about The Avengers for Comic Related. As I noted on Facebook, I might want to reconsider what I write about for the site).
In fact, he's one of the few "role models" I have met in real life - years ago, when Macnee released his autobiography Blind In One Ear , I attended a signing at a downtown bookstore. Cutting class, I was one of the first in line to purchase and have it signed. Waited about half an hour before Macnee came - on time - wearing (if memory serves) an impeccably tailored white suit (which was never advised in Chicago back then - we were a rather dingy, dirty city).
Moving towards the front of the line, I handed my book to Macnee eagerly. He asked my name, and as he signed the book, I mentioned how much of an influence he had on me...in that eager, earnest way that many do when meeting "celebrities." Flashing a smile, he handed me the book and simply said, "Thank you - you're too kind."
He was every bit as charming, urbane, and self-assured as I expected. And yes, he will be missed.